#MyGardenRightNow

Visitors to this blog will be aware that the garden at home is not something that ever really features in the posts. There are lots of reasons for this but the main one is, just like a million and one other people, our garden is personal and private. We don’t open to the public and it isn’t the subject of this blog, until today.

So why the change of heart, well should you follow Michelle Chapman aka @Malvernmeet you might have noticed the above hashtag in her timeline this weekend. The #MyGardenRightNow project was born after a TV company got in touch wanting Michelle to advise a couple on how to grow vegetables, a great opportunity, but sadly the researcher expected a burgeoning mid summer veg patch at the start of March. Michelle’s good but without the aid of a sonic screwdriver or hogwartian time turner not something that was realistic.

You can read more about the project here

So here we go, a little tour of My Garden Right now…..

 

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Mo Veg Fedge

Scene of last Summer’s bean (Phaseolus coccineus), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and annual flower fest,  now home to an over wintering smorgasbord of self sown hairy bitter cress (Cardamine hirsuta),  foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) , marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and other lovelies. For those of you with an enquiring mind “Mo Veg Fedge” is a Modesty Vegetable Hedge who’s creation was necessitated when the existing hedge was rejuvenated resulting in mahousive gaps.

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Hot Spot

Just past the Mo Veg Hedge on the opposite side is one of the hottest spots in the garden. South facing and slightly sheltered it benefits from a microclimate  generated by the central heating flue. All of the above pots will be destined for our garden at RHS Chatsworth if they perform on time, there are plants in them honest, but you know it’s still only March.

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Oakey woodlanders

Moving on to the path past the Oak (top right of the hot spot pic) this is pretty much North Facing and gets very dry and very dark at the height of summer. We don’t bother collecting the leaves in Autumn they hide the straggly old leaves of the Primroses and assorted ferns rather nicely. This part of the garden is home to Cyclamen, Primroses (Primula vulgaris), Ferns (mostly Dryopteris species), Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora) and a few Crocosmia (nope no idea how they got there but they seem happy enough) There may be a mid season cull of Dandelions (*Taraxacum officinale) and Wood Avens (Geum urbanum), or not, they might just be deadheaded instead.

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How much for a Helebore

The farthest point of the garden from the house where once was a wild scape of brambles, docks and Christmas Tree dens is the newest planting. A bit of experimental planting (shocking wind eddy in this part of the garden) which will be developed over time but currently contains Hellebores, Epimediums, Cyclamen, Nigella and others all snuggled up under a toasty blanket of Lesser Celandines (Ficaria verna)

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Midden Bed

Moving back up towards the top of the garden is the Midden Bed so called because it hides the concrete septic tank in the middle of the lawn. It’s one of the last parts of the garden to be tidied up in Spring as I’d rather look a a bit of natural decrepitude than a concrete poop bunker, call me old fashioned if you must.

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Odd pot spot

Another pot spot but being North/West facing it’s the coldest spot in the garden, perfect for holding things back, should you need to, and also tends to become temporary home to the odd ‘Where should I put that’  impulse purchase.

So there you have it warts, weeds and (**nearly) all of #MyGardenRightNow

 

 

*Possibly Taraxacum officinale or Taraxacum vulgare all I do know for sure is the bees like them and they seed around the clock just like any other Dandelion.

**well a girl’s got to have some secrets after all 😉

The Language of Plants – Part 1

There  be rumblins on social media, just for a change, and not just about European breakfast or why Orange is the latest must have colour in the USA, but why we still use Latin in horticulture. More to the point how it’s use is alienating new gardeners because they don’t understand it’s frightening, elitist, antiquated ways.

I absulutely understand the reluctance of some, but I still think there is a case to be made for keeping and championing the current system. So over a few posts, in my own way, I’m hopefully going to put forward my own case.

For or many years I ran a club in a primary school teaching all things horticultural. In fact ‘Horticulture’ was one of the first words they learnt, it comes from the Latin words ‘Hortus’ meaning garden and ‘Cultura’ meaning to cultivate, and I felt it summed up what the club was all about. During the term time they would learn about different types of plants and seeds, how to grow them, propagate and prune them. We looked at soil science, composting, crop rotation and pest control. And yes these under 11’s got to grips with Botanical Latin.

The thing about Botanical Latin as its often refered to is its not all Latin, there’s a pinch of Ancient Greek, a smattering of Persian and a hint of ego. So what are the objections to using It in Horticulture?

1) It’s frightening. Is it though, I find tall buildings, sitting next to learner drivers and snakes scary but I’ve never had a nightmare featuring Latin Plant names. What is scary I think relates to number 2).

2) It’s elitist. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid and there is a tendency to be a bit sneery when it comes to pronunciation. If that’s you stop it, nobody likes a smart arse. For instance I’ve been told off for my pronunciation of Hemerocallis in the past, mind you I’ve been told off for lots of things. I’ve always known it as hemero-callis, but have been told it should be hem-er-okal-lis with all the syllables running into each other, like an Ibix skipping over boulders. So who’s right, to be honest I don’t know. However I do know that Hemerocallis comes from the Greek ‘hemeros’ meaning a day and ‘kallos’ meaning beauty and that Polly Maasz, grower of unusual and rather special Hemerocalis, doesn’t take issue with my pronunciation. Also I can’t help thinking a gardening code which means I can converse with any Hort, anywhere in the world, with words we both understand is far from elitist, it’s actually universally inclusive.

3) It’s antiquated. Absolutely right, but there is a good reason for combining ‘dead’ languages in science. Language is like a river running through time, it’s constantly picking up influences as it flows, evolving and leaving behind the evidence of ancients in literary ox-bow lakes. An ancient or dead language will never alter, it’s meaning will always stay the same, so *Systema Naturae written in 1735 could still be read and understood in 2735

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*Systema Natura written by Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus introduced Linnaean taxonomy (now known as binomial nomenclature) as a way of grouping living things in a consistent scientific way.

 

 

 

 

I’ve lost the battle…

….but I plan to win the war.

Every year there is a day where I realise I’ve lost the battle with my garden and this year it’s May the 12th.

Being a garden designer the most often asked questions or statements are ‘Ooh I bet you’ve got an amazing garden’ or ‘Do you open your garden to the public?’ well lovely reader the answer to both of these questions at the moment is..No.

I work across the Shires of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester and live on the border of the latter two. We are blessed with many things, beautiful countryside, cider and clay. The first two of these can be enjoyed all year round but clay seems workable for a few short day a year *I may exaggerate f0r effect*

I have looked at my diary, and as folk suddenly remember they have a garden, and really they would rather like something done about it I see the time slip thorough my fingers like dry sand on a summer holiday by the sea. Once again I will be making beautiful gardens across the Shires and beyond and thinking, as cleavers and thistles make hay while the sunshines across my plot, I may have lost the battle with my own garden but I am determined to one day win the war.

Dead Nettles
Playing Russian Roulette with the nettles in compost corner

 

Cleavers
Cleavers threatening to envelope the new Yew edge
Prize winning thistles
Prize winning Thistle

 

Horticultural Rumblings

For quite sometime now there have been more rumblings in horticulture than Captain Bligh encountered during the mutiny of The Bounty or as Private Frazer of Dad’s Army fame might say “We’re Doomed”…… unless we can attract more young people to join the ranks of this particular land army.

Any profession needs new blood to keep it going and horticulture is no exception. We are a multifaceted business ranging from gardeners to scientists with a myriad of occupations in between. So how to attract newcomers, how do we say ‘join us’ for the greatest job in the world? If you believe some of those on social media we need to make horticulture sexy, because sex sells. They could be right hence the Diet Coke Sexy Gardener ad, every perfume and aftershave advert this Christmas. Even Durex is getting in on the sexy gardening theme with crashing lawnmowers in a field of roses this Valentines. So perhaps I’m in the minority because yes it seems these multi million pound campaigns are indeed using sex to sell, but what are they selling? Well not to put too fine a point on it, in those three cases; diet beverages, scent and sex!

What do we need to sell horticulture with all its wondrous paths? Horticulture is not a single branded product, it’s more complex than that with careers to suit many and varied individuals. Using sex to sell a career is tricky, one persons sexy is another’s sexism. Look how well it turned out for Tim Hunt, four years after winning the Nobel Prize he was forced to resign his university post, but he did get his own hashtag before he went, so that was nice.

How then do we make horticulture aspirational? Why do any of us get up at 6am or earlier and go to work, why do we put up with the knocks both physical and emotional. The vast majority of us, no matter what our career path, work because we have to. It’s a thing called life and unless you’ve decided to weave yogurt in an off grid yurt, life is an expensive business. Although, it has to be said, if the off grid yurt dweller studied horticulture they could do a lot more than just feed themselves with home grown veg.

Yes most of us working within horticulture are rich when it comes to our working day but what happens when we come home from work and open our bank statements, are we still rewarded? When we meet somebody for the first time and there’s the inevitable “what to you do for a living?” question, are we proud of what we do, and more importantly how do they react? Show a year 9 student, making their GCSE choices a variety of pay cheques from various well regarded professions and if horticulture is up with the rest I can almost guarantee a greater uptake

Now I’m sure most 13 and 14 year olds are definitely rife with hormones and to be honest the whiff of pheromones wafting around most secondary schools is hard to miss, and of course they’re interested in, and attracted to, others around them, but they’re also more savvy than you might imagine. They are starting to make their way in an adult world, they want respect from their peers and other adults and who amongst them is going to chose a career with few prospects, poor wages and little kudos? How others view them is absolutely paramount and so many times I hear that horticulture isn’t a career for clever kids or gardening isn’t a job for girls and it makes me believe it’s these attitudes we need to change, make horticulture a respected, well paid career throughout and we can hope for a brighter future.

That I believe is the heart of the crisis, but its not going to be easy to fix and sticking a sexy Elastoplast on it wont solve the problem, just mask it. I worry that making it cool is simply not enough. Most gardens are outside and any of us working in a garden will, by the nature of our job, also be outside with whatever the weather throws at us. The act of gardening isn’t cool or sexy its hard graft but what we achieve through that effort can be amazing, uplifting and inspirational. Until we make it a wholly rewarding career no parent, teacher, guardian or more importantly year 9 pupil is going to say “Hey Horticulture, it’s the Greatest Job in The World”

Winter Solstice

So here we are again, at the tipping point of the year, where we look forward to lengthening days and the return of the light. It’s an odd sort of thing to feel on the one hand that winter is over and on the other know that really it has yet to begin.

Solstice sunrise

Dawning of a new day

With only one frost here so far this season the garden is still rather floriferous, if a little perplexing, and although I am not complaining about double digit daytime temperatures I do wonder what knock on effect this overly warm start to the Winter will have next year.

At the moment we have a rather odd mix of flowers in the garden, primroses, hellebores, wallflowers, celandines and the odd snowdrop alongside roses, hesperantha, pelargoniums and hardy geraniums. Some are early and some are just downright confused having no business being in flower at the end of December at all.

Flowering Dec 2015
An eclectic December collection

Its not just the flora that’s bemused the fauna seem to be unseasonably active. Bees, both honey and bumble, are out and about looking for food and I pity the poor lady pheasants, it seems they are in for an extra couple of months of harassment as the chaps are already squaring up to each other in a territorial fashion.

This year more than any other feels as though Winter decided to take a holiday and let it’s young friend Spring mind the shop for a few months. Although I do wonder if Winter will return with renewed vim and vigor having being refreshed by an out of season break, and so with that in mind I’m off now to try and find my thermals (just in case).

Happy Solstice.

Oh Gourd…. the Horror of Irregular Vegetables

Wonky carrots, undersized parsnips, revolting bolting leeks have all occurred in my vegetable patch this year along with flolloping lolloping sprouts and an epic failure to produce any peas*

You may have noticed a lack of photographic evidence that we even have a vegetable patch, and those more observant regular visitors to the blog may also have wondered vaguely if we actually have a garden as there has never been a picture posted of that either. Well for those more curious amongst you we do indeed have a garden and a veg patch at home, however both suffer from “cobblers children syndrome”. In much the same way as a cobblers children are rarely shod this Designer hasn’t actually found the time to design their own garden and so it is a place for trialling new plants, trying different combinations in an ad hoc wild and oft times weedy fashion.

So why am I telling you this you may wonder, especially as I rarely write wordy posts being time poor with no aspirations to be a writer, but sometimes when I have been thinking about something for a good long while I feel perhaps it may be time to try and put my thoughts down.

Well as I was realising that my butternut squash had again failed to measure up to those available in the supermarket I thought more about supermarkets, the fashion industry and my wordless wednesday pics and the unrelenting pursuit of perfection. Here I was feeling slightly miffed at my own inability to grow a decent sized gourd when supermarkets are full of perfect veg and I’ve always been miffed about skinny girls and chemically enhanced chaps in magazines making people feel thoroughly inadequate about themselves. It suddenly struck me that in only posting those rare snapshots in time when something in the garden it as its peak and cropping out the weeds in the background I am just as guilty of pimping perfection.

Feelings of inadequacy
Feelings of inadequacy

Now that’s not to say that I am suddenly going to start posting pics of my weedy veg patch but it did make me think more about vegetables in general. The amount of fruit and veg wasted because it is judged to be the wrong size or shape is quite horrific, I’m not sure that any supermarket has ever enquired as to my personal preference for a parsnip or potato. If any supermarket is interested I prefer a range of sizes within a batch of carrots, small for stock, med for roast and larger for adding to a spag bol. Saying that this is consumer led is, I feel, only part of the story. I think the uniformity of vegetables is more to do with the mechanisation of production than the pursuit of perfection and the profit margins of producer and retailer, which is why they’re in business after all. Let’s be honest with ourselves if as consumers we demand different sized or shaped veg and are prepared to part with our hard earned cash you can be sure a retailer will supply it and farmer will grow it. So with this in mind I’m going to cut myself some slack and delight in the full range of my own slightly inadequate squash and ask my local supermarket for wonky veg or buy it from an independent greengrocer.

Honey Bear, Queensland Blue, Waltham Butternut, and Hunter
Honey Bear, Queensland Blue, Waltham Butternut, and Hunter in various shapes and sizes

*the peas failed only because I failed to remember to sow them.

Chelsea 2015

Although I went to Chelsea last year I didn’t blog about it – for lots of reasons, but mainly because I didn’t get there until later in the week by which time a plethora of excellently written blogs had pretty much said all there was to say.

This year there are probably even more excellently written blogs, because you see this year in particular Chelsea 2015 seems to be, to quote Bill and Ted, most excellent.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about the various stylistic merits of any gardens or make a critique of every garden, instead I thought I would make a note of those little details that caught either my eye, my heart or stirred my imagination.

To start with you can’t beat the Artisan Gardens for their attention to the minutiae, well I suppose you have to given their size. I loved the forge on The Motor Neurone Disease Association Garden, it seems hard to imagine a few weeks ago it was a pile of bricks on a pallet until Twigs Gardens got their hands on them.

New Old Forge
New Old Forge

However my absolute favorite garden in this category was The Evaders Garden by Chorley Council, designed by the uber talented John Everiss.

A new Old Forge
My Favourite Artisan Garden 

I loved the transition in the planting either on side of the parachute path and the way the sun lit the stained glass. However it was the sculpture along side the beautifully built wall that gave this garden such emotion.

The Sentebale – Hope in Vulnerability garden designed by Matt Keightley, was another garden to stir the soul. It’s hard to imagine that a garden so full of orange could be so restful but in the early morning light the garden glowed softly.

Soft Light as a new day dawns - Sentebale
Soft Light as a new day dawns – Sentebale

This was another garden that stirred the emotions with the children’s footprints on the path, simple, effective and quietly beautiful.

Subtle Detailing
Subtle Detailing

Moving on from gardens with amazing paths to gardens with gorgeous water. Water is a difficult one at Chelsea, the Plane tree mast not only chokes the visitor but also settles on any surface seemingly especially drawn to water features. This is not such an issue for a naturalistic swimming pond but an absolute nightmare for the sleek reflective water features in both The World Vision Garden and Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden.

Black mirrors
Black mirrors

However due to amazing diligence with shrimping nets and filters neither of these gardens had dusty water to detract from the mirror like qualities of their garden pools. They also relied on perfect levels so hats off to their contractors

Shrimping action shot top left
Shrimping action shot top left

A couple of the walls caught me eye for separate reasons I loved the Mondrian like wall in The Telegraph garden, I couldn’t capture the details well but each piece had been beautifully crafted with shading and motif.

Leaf detailing
Leaf detailing

In stark contrast to the precision of The Telegraph Garden the sinuous curves of the Pure Land Foundation garden were so sculptural they added much to this small space. Again hats off to the contractors for making the designs such a fabulous reality.

Curvaceous
Curvaceous

Its hard to say which garden was my favorite because they all had something different to offer but my absolute favorite thing about Chelsea is, and probably always will be……….the plants………. both inside and out.

Verbascum and Stipa
Verbascum and Stipa
Orchids Hiding in plain sight -The Hidden Beauty of Kranji
Orchids Hiding in plain sight -The Hidden Beauty of Kranji
A tiny potting shed or is it a Hobbit House?
A tiny potting shed or is it a Hobbit House?
Hankering after P. 'Chun Cho'
Hankering after P. ‘Chun Cho’
One of a kind flower in The Great Pavilion
One of a kind flower in The Great Pavilion – Bluebell Cottage Nursery
Part of Hardy's Gold Display - Loving the Libertia
Part of Hardy’s Gold Display – Loving the Libertia
The Plants are the Stars
The Plants are the Stars
Sadly the perching bench was not for sale - unlike the Wildegoose Violas which were.
Sadly the perching bench was not for sale – unlike the Wildegoose Violas which were.

 

 

 

Walking With Wildflowers

“Lets go for a walk” they said. “It’ll be fun” they said.

If I’m honest going on a hike up the side of a hill is not high on my list of things to do on an Easter Bank Holiday. Said hill often features in Lycra Clad Lovelies Magazine when they’re running a feature on Most Hideous Hill Climbs on a Bike. However I was assured the route we would take would be high on views, low in arduousness and I was promised lunch at the top.

River Teme
River Teme

I rather hate to admit it, but they were right, mostly. It started off well as we meandered alongside the river, as it in turn, meandered through the valley.

On one side the river and on the other woodland. It was all very peaceful and really quite floriferous, given how late the season is this year.

 

Early Bluebell
Early Bluebell
Euphorbia amygdaloides
Euphorbia amygdaloides
Wood Anemones
Wood Anemones

Just as I was starting to think how jolly this all was a sudden a thought occurred, we were still, even after several miles, following the river. At some point we were going to have to ascend, and yes my deduction was correct as half a mile later we said goodbye to the river.

River Teme turning away
River Teme turning away

So as the Teme turned to the left and we to the right there was a marked change of gradient.

As the slope increased so did my desire to stop and take in the views and examine more closely the flowers and signs of wildlife around me. This was obviously due to my love of all things flora and fauna and absolutely nothing to do with the fact some parts of the walk were steeper than a ski-jump.

Violet Violets
Violet Violets
White Violets
White Violets
Sandstone Steps
Sandstone Steps
Wildlife track
Wildlife track

And so we reached the top and yes the views were stunning and no my little camera phone doesn’t really do them justice.

Teme Valley
Teme Valley
View across the valley
View across the valley

Now I’m not sure about you, but I find few things cheerier that a splash of yellow to mark the end of a walk.

Carpet of Celandines
Carpet of Celandines
Restorative Botanicals
Restorative Botanicals

 

 

 

 

Symmetry, what could possibly go wrong?

We all learn in lots of different ways, some of us learn by rote, observation or books. Sometimes we even learn from our mistakes but far less painful is to learn from the perceived mistakes of others.

A case in point is the East Parterre at Witley Court in Worcestershire, part of the gardens commissioned by The Earl of Dudley and completed around 1860.

Now there are a myriad of garden design terms bandied about with an airy waft of the hand, especially during the ‘Show Season’. Symmetry, asymmetry, focal point, rhythm, balance, scale, proportion and unity are just some of them.

In your own garden you might not name the principles of design that are present, but, as Ms Capulet so eloquently said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet.” The world of design is dominated by these principles, they are, I suppose the ‘Rules of Design’ and sometimes, like all rules, they get broken. After all, they’re not Laws of Design, merely Guidelines.

Personally, I think the two most important principles are Unity and Balance. Design principles shouldn’t be confused with a design style, they do not go in and out of fashion, they are an enduring element of any successful design. Without them you can find yourself with a jarring design that simply falls short of the mark, sometimes its easy to spot, other times less so. 

Areal view of East Parterre
Areal view of East Parterre

 

On the face of it this French parterre de broderie should work, its perfectly symmetrical, all the elements balance with each other and the scale is perfect given the size of the mansion. However, as you walk around you are left with a real feeling of discomfort.

Could it be that the vandalized fountain of Flora, the Goddess of Spring has been reduced to four Tritons drinking imaginary yards of ale and seemingly worshipping a foot? Possible but actually that whimsy is one of the best parts of this area. 

Make mine a yard of ale
Make mine a yard of ale                            

The English Heritage blurb would have you believe that this Parterre was designed to be, “looked down on from the most important rooms of the house or from the raised balustraded areas”.

You might therefore think that given the grandeur of the ballroom, with its many windows looking over the East Parterre and out to the countryside beyond, its majestic steps, sweeping down to this easterly section of garden, that this would be one of the ‘most important rooms’ of which English Heritage are referring to.

Ballroom
Ballroom

You might also think that given the alignment of the fountain of Perseus and Andromeda, directly with the steps from the South Portico, that symmetry would be replicated here with the fountain of Flora and her Tritons being the focal point of the Ballroom.

Well gentle reader you would be wrong to assume any such thing. It would seem that William Andrews Nesfield (the landscape architect) and The Earl of Dudley considered the servants passageway running between the Dining Room and Sitting Room to be of the utmost importance, as it is the windows of this room that aligns perfectly with the focal point of the fountain. Which although very nice for the servants does result in this section of the gardens being discomfortingly out of balance with the architecture of the house. 

Annoyingly out of kilter
Annoyingly out of kilter

 

As I say, its always nice to learn from others, and should I ever be commissioned to design such a garden, I think I’ll stick to a design that unifies House and Garden with a sense balance. Sometimes its better to bend, rather than break, the rules.